Early adopters approve of NREL prompt solar allowing software program SolarAPP


In late 2020, NREL released a free no-touch software system for cities and counties across the country that aims to optimize SolarAPP (Solar Automated Permit Processing) to optimize rooftop solar permits. SolarAPP automates a time-consuming and tedious review process for local governments that often delays solar development on the grid.

With SolarAPP, three cities and districts have worked on a total of 32 solar projects so far. The free software has relieved administrative burdens from cities and counties such as Tucson and Pima Counties, Arizona, and Pleasant Hill, California by instantly calculating whether a proposed residential solar system meets a number of safety and code standards.

Faster approval processing from SolarAPP offers several benefits to local governments and their communities. In addition to increasing efficiency, local governments can rest assured that SolarAPP will increase license fee revenues, increase on-site resilience, provide secure solar grid connections and accelerate solar employment growth. In 2016, the city of San Jose, California switched to online permits, increasing approved permits by 600%.

“Many licensing officers receive 100 or more solar license applications each week, with review times of 45 to 90 minutes per project. SolarAPP’s automated verification can be a lifeline for overwhelmed employees, ”said Jeff Cook, lead developer of SolarAPP at NREL. “The software is all the more transformative because it is available for free. Jurisdictions can handle and automate up to 90% of applications for solar permits, with the advantage that more solar systems are installed on site. “

SolarAPP reduces administrative burdens and costs for communities by providing an instant review of potential residential solar applications. By automating building code compliance checks, solar developers could quickly schedule installations for customers, which is expected to accelerate the adoption of solar energy significantly. The US Department of Energy provided funding for SolarAPP, and an extensive coalition of solar and building security actors helped develop it.

“As Solar America City, Tucson is looking for ways to support the solar industry,” said Scott Clark, director of planning and development services for the city of Tucson. “SolarAPP offers another incentive to use solar energy by simplifying the approval process.”

SolarAPP is ideal for approvals in this day and age of uncertainty and remote work: Installers can get instant online feedback and corrections from the system without using the local approval department as a quality assurance resource.

“I was really keen to work with NREL to find this new approach to handling solar permits,” said Geoff Simmons, senior construction officer for the city of Pleasant Hill, California. “There has been such a good collaboration to create another way to review these housing projects in a way that is outside of the traditional plan review plan but still covers the technical aspects. We are now able to shift qualified solar permits directly to field inspections, giving our staff much-needed time to work on other, more complex projects. “

Pima County and the City of Tucson Development Services have jointly piloted SolarAPP to optimize their pipeline with nearly 3,600 solar permits annually.

“Providing self-approval for our solar customers will accelerate the process,” said Carla Blackwell, director of Pima County Development Services.

SolarAPP is beneficial for both compliant and non-compliant solar project designs. If a system is compatible, SolarAPP approves the design and gives immediate approval. If a system is not compatible, SolarAPP rejects the application and clarifies why the system was not compliant with the code so that the contractor can revise their application in real time. The automated verification of SolarAPP eliminates the tedious task of application verification, so that the construction department can reduce the backlog of permits and devote their time to more complex projects.

SolarAPP is compatible with local government software, including Accela and OpenGov, that serve thousands of local governments across the United States. These partnerships combine each vendor’s government automation platform with the SolarAPP review approval engine, enabling seamless SolarAPP adoption for local governments using these platforms.

NREL and its coalition partners are in the process of expanding SolarAPP’s capacities to also include energy storage in residential areas. NREL is expected to introduce this function in spring 2021.

Other communities in Arizona, California, Colorado, Maryland, and Massachusetts are in the process of adopting SolarAPP. To use SolarAPP to process rooftop solar permits in your community, log in here and register here to receive future updates for the product.

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